POST­CARDS FROM THE PAST

Dis­patches from great Amer­i­can boom­towns.

Forbes - - CONTENTS -

BUF­FALO, 1930

Thanks to the Erie Canal and cheap hy­dropower from nearby Ni­a­gara Falls, Buf­falo is on a cen­tury-long tear. By the 1930 cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion had in­creased by 10% or more every decade since 1830, but the open­ing of the St. Lawrence Se­away in 1959 spells trou­ble for New York’s “City of Light.”

“Qui­etly, this great in­ter­nal ‘se­away’ is go­ing ahead. . . . The big grain boats which now stop at Lake On­tario will, with the com­ple­tion of the Wei­land canal, go east to Prescott. That lit­tle St. Lawrence river town may soon ri­val Buf­falo as a cen­ter of grain trans­fer and stor­age.” (“Pend­ing Prob­lems with Canada,” May 1, 1930)

DETROIT, 1942

The Mo­tor City is tur­bocharged by a wartime de­mand for tanks, jeeps and air­craft. Around 400,000 peo­ple will move to Detroit in the war years. The city’s pop­u­la­tion will peak at 1.8 mil­lion in 1950.

“Just as Detroit was the sym­bol of Amer­ica in peace, so is it the sym­bol of Amer­ica at war. Other towns make arms—as other towns made au­to­mo­biles—but whether we win this war de­pends in great mea­sure on Detroit.” (“Detroit—mil­lion Man Ar­se­nal,” April 15, 1942)

PITTS­BURGH, 1961

J.P. Mor­gan’s great steel trust sur­vived the ef­forts of the fed­eral govern­ment to break it up in 1911, and for many years the for­tunes of Pitts­burgh mir­rored those of the “The Cor­po­ra­tion.” U.S. Steel’s peak pro­duc­tion year was 1953, be­fore for­eign com­pe­ti­tion and newer ma­te­ri­als like alu­minum chopped it down to size.

“As it be­gins its 61st year this month, U.S. Steel no longer seems quite so awe­some. Twen­ti­eth-cen­tury tech­nol­ogy has helped a few oth­ers to pass it in sheer size of as­sets. . . . Yet even nowa­days, when steel­men meet, let some­one re­fer to “The Cor­po­ra­tion” and ev­ery­one else knows which cor­po­ra­tion he means.” (“The Cor­po­ra­tion,” February 1, 1961)

AN­CHOR­AGE, 1969

By the late 1960s, ma­jor oil and gas dis­cov­er­ies had been made in Alaska, but trans­port­ing the fuel to the lower 48 was costly. The 1973 OPEC em­bargo changed both the eco­nom­ics and the pol­i­tics.

“The most valu­able book in Alaska is vir­tu­ally un­ob­tain­able: the Greater An­chor­age Area tele­phone direc­tory. The An­chor­age West­ward Ho­tel has 1967 edi­tions in rooms and lobby be- cause any later ver­sions have been ‘ex­ported’ to the Lower 48 by ev­ery­one do­ing, or in­tend­ing to do, busi­ness in The Great Land.” (“Alaska’s $50 Bil­lion Boom,” Novem­ber 15, 1969)

AT­LANTIC CITY, 1983

The first le­gal casino in At­lantic City opened in 1978, and just five years later, the city was pro­jected to earn more from gam­bling than Vegas. But a de­cid­edly down-mar­ket vibe meant that A.C. had lit­tle in the way of com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage to save it when nearby states be­gan le­gal­iz­ing gam­bling in the 2000s.

“In 1983, At­lantic City is likely to surge past Las Vegas in the win col­umn, the equiv­a­lent of rev­enues in the casino busi­ness, to end the lat­ter city’s 25-year reign as gam­bling’s crown jewel.” (“Leisure,” Jan­uary 3, 1983)

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